19 January 2011, by
CounterPunch has accessed Wikileaks’ file of cables on Israel’s Gaza assault two years ago (Operation Cast Lead, December 27, 2008 through January 18, 2009). Though the cables often simply rehash Israeli press reporting, providing little new insight into Israel’s attack or the planning behind it, they show with pitiless clarity the U.S. government to be little more than a handmaiden and amanuensis of the Israeli military machine.
The cables make clear, were any further disclosure needed, exactly where the United States stands with respect to Israel’s unprovoked attacks on Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors. Although Operation Cast Lead took place in the last days of the Bush administration, ending two days before Barack Obama was inaugurated, every Obama policy in the succeeding two years – including the administration’s repudiation of the Goldstone Report detailing Israeli atrocities and war crimes during Cast Lead – has demonstrated a striking continuity of support for Israeli actions.
The cables give a notably one-sided account of the assault. Because they take their daily reporting primarily from the Israeli media, the cables keep a tally of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza and dramatically describe “burned dolls and destroyed children’s toys” at an unoccupied kindergarten in Beer Sheba hit by a rocket, but make virtually no mention of Israel’s intensive air and artillery bombardment of Gaza, including its civilian population. There are no reports of burned Palestinian babies or very few of destroyed property in Gaza. Even the western media provided more accurate coverage of Palestinian casualties than this.
The U.S. embassy cables did provide some information on Palestinian casualties, but the reporting was minimal. In one cable buried in the collection, approximately ten days into the assault, western press reports are cited giving a single report of 530 Palestinians killed. This was at a point when the cables counted five Israelis having been killed. Israeli casualties were totted up repeatedly. This roughly 100-1 ratio of Palestinians to Israelis killed persisted throughout the operation, but this is not noted in the U.S. cables. In a few instances, U.S. consular officials report the views of a few Gazans, frankly conveying Palestinian distress, but even here, when one Gazan reports that his town is increasingly being assaulted by Israeli fire, the cable qualifies his report by referring to “what he termed ‘indiscriminate’ Israeli fire.”
Whenever the cables mention a specific location in Gaza having been attacked or destroyed, including hospitals and mosques, the cables repeat Israeli claims without questioning them; on January 2, for instance, it is reported that the Israeli Air Force destroyed a mosque “reportedly serving as a weapons depot and communications hub.” The embassy reports, without a hint of skepticism, the Israeli claim midway through the operation that Hamas operatives were reconstituting “certain command and control capabilities” at Shifa Hospital in Gaza by disguising themselves as doctors and nurses.
The earliest of this collection of cables reveals U.S. bias by reporting several days before Cast Lead began that pressure had been building in Israel for a “response” to rocket attacks from Gaza, “since Hamas announced the end of the ‘tahdiya’ truce agreement December 19.” This effort to place responsibility for the hostilities on Hamas ignores the fact, which was no secret to those following the situation at the time, that it was Israel that had violated the truce, in effect since the previous June, on November 4 when it launched an unprovoked incursion into Gaza and killed several Palestinians. Hamas’s action in ending the truce weeks later was a response to Israel’s violation.
The most blatant evidence of U.S. bias – and the only instance of analysis or policy advice in this collection of cables – also comes before the operation began. “Our recommendation,” Ambassador James Cunningham writes on December 22, “is that USG start with putting the blame on Hamas for the illegitimacy of its rule in Gaza, its policy of firing or allowing other factions to fire rockets and mortars at Israeli civilian targets, and its decision to end the ‘tahdiya’ calming period.” Cunningham seems to confuse cause and effect: even were Hamas rule illegitimate, which it was not – Hamas having been democratically elected three years earlier – it is not a common presumption that political illegitimacy justifies a massive military assault. And particularly not when, as the U.S. had to know, Hamas did not provoke the hostilities. Cunningham goes on to recommend support for “Israel’s right to defend itself.” Hamas apparently has no such right to defend Gazans from Israeli attack.
The embassy burnishes its conscience by “emphasizing our concern for the welfare of innocent Palestinian civilians and the U.S. readiness to provide emergency humanitarian relief.” This is the only mention of innocent Palestinian civilians in the entire collection of cables.
The hypocrisy is glaring. The U.S. bias shown here is obviously not at all a new phenomenon. But here it is in black and white—or, more accurately, in pin-stripe: diplomacy as cheerleader for massacre and genocide (a term used by not a few Jewish and other commentators during the Gaza assault). Such atrocities are all right in U.S. eyes if Israel commits them, but Hamas is not allowed.